Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mirror, Mirror...

            The tale of the girl white as snow, red as blood, and black as ebony is one that is famously told in two ways; one from the perspective of two German brothers, while the other is from the viewpoint of an ambitious animator. The two versions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs  vary in several aspects but their portrayal of the female protagonist is similar. Snow White is the female that is young, beautiful, but innocent and na├»ve. She does not question why the Huntsman is taking her into the forest, or try to try to protect herself as her step mother attempts to kill her. Both have Snow White represent what they think women should be doing: cooking, cleaning, sewing and taking care of the household. Her beauty is her only helpful asset, otherwise the Huntsmen would not have set her free, or the dwarfs have taken her in. The similar representation of Snow White allows for the differences in the other characters to be noticed.

            Stumbling into their home, Snow White is aided by the seven dwarfs that reside in the cottage in the forest. In comparing these men between the original and Disney versions there are differences. In the Grimm’s story the dwarfs are “indescribably dainty and neat”, and after they discover the beautiful seven year old child in the seventh dwarf’s bed, they agree to let her continue to stay with them if she cooks, makes the beds, wash, sew and knit. These dwarfs do not actually need Snow White. She is an extra appendage in their life that they keep even though they were able to manage and live comfortably before she arrived. This varies from the Disney version because after a clearly matured Snow White is guided by a group of forest creatures to the dwarfs’ cottage she takes the maternal figure by cleaning up the dirty, cobweb filled house, and making dinner for the seven children she believes live in the cottage. Disney even portrays the dwarfs as childish. Snow White becomes their motherly figure by not only cooking and cleaning for them, but making them wash before dinner, and then kissing them on their heads before they go to work. They retain some of the adult characteristic that the Grimm’s gave them, by warning Snow White of the evil queen coming after her, and then try to come to her rescue after her poisoning of an apple. Their rescue also points out another difference between the two versions. In the Grimm’s version the queen tries three times to kill Snow White, while Disney’s film only included the apple. Yet, in both versions the person who  Snow White's savior is the Prince.

Right from the beginning there are differences between the two versions of the Prince. In the Disney film, the royalty makes an appearance in the beginning of the film and at the end, to kiss his “true love” awake. In the Grimm version, the Prince makes his first appearance at the end of the tale, falling in love with the sleeping Snow White, the dwarfs pitying him, and allowing him to return to his father’s castle with the coffin.  After a servant stumbles over some shrubs, the piece of apple is dislodged from Snow White’s throat and she then awakens in the company of the Prince. In the literary version there is no magical kiss that wakes up Snow White. The film version of Snow White was a project that was under the complete control of Walt Disney during its three-year creation. Disney had the film giving a message of hope during the Great Depression, and that those who were patient would have good things happen to them.  The many changes from the original tale were made to make the story more Americanized, timely, but through the film Disney was able to project his own taste, beliefs, and his own self into the film, what Donald Crafton refers to as “self configuration,” in his book, Before Mickey: The Animated Film. It is how the movie is made that makes the film the film we see, therefore the real focal point of the movie is the animator and not so much the movie itself. You see this with the characters of the Seven Dwarfs and the Prince. While the dwarfs were the ones to take care of Snow White, to raise her, house her, and care for her, the Prince is the one that gets all of the credit and glory for saving her. This was the situation for the animators and Walt Disney himself; while the animators worked, Disney received all of the credit.  The mirror on the wall can represent the patriarchal approval of beauty, but for this tale Disney was able to use this film to as a reflection of his own life. Walt Disney took the German tale and transformed it into something that projected his own fairy tale of his life.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

If the Slipper Fits

In the time the Brothers Grimm wrote the tale of Cinderella, the idea of rising in society though marriage is all a girl could hope for. It is the message in the story to all the young girls that if they remain pious, good, and always act kindly to others, they would be able to receive a good offer for marriage and live happily ever after.  Indeed the Grimms physically punish the stepsisters with the birds pecking their eye out because of their, “wickedness and malice” to show how those who do not follow these guidelines will not live a good life. The motif is more blatantly obvious in the Disney movie, showing Cinderella move from her dusty clothes to her beautiful ball gown, and eventually earning the heart of the prince.  In the times of the past this rise of a character from rags to riches was celebrated and exalted, but in the realm of today the motif holds a different meaning and those who “rise” through marriage are not always as respected.  

            The rise tales are very much realistic today with an individual being able to change their initial circumstances and rising over others. Those that rise though marriage are often labeled with a negative connotation. These women are often derogatorily labeled as, “gold diggers”. It does not matter if there is a love connection, when a woman of younger age marries a man of status she is mislabeled. This is far different from what the Grimms’ were portraying in their literature. The other version of a “Cinderella story” in which the rise of an individual is attributed to their hard work and persistence. These stories often have a positive connotation with them that serves as a story to look up to. They were initially in unfortunate circumstances and were able to turn this around by themselves through their hard work.

            The magic is part of what makes the fairy tales so memorable and legendary. In the Grimms’ story the magic comes in the form of the birds, first helping Cinderella pick apart the pile of lentils out of the ashes, then with the bird giving her her beautiful dresses of silver and gold, before correcting the princes choices in a bride and punishing the stepsisters by pecking them blind. In the realm of today, the rise tales do not have the fairy godmothers, or helpful bird to help them rise. Those that are able to achieve through their own means tend to say that their has been some magic in their lives. That they were in the right place at the right time, or that they were able to successful because of the one person that aided them. Though not a spectacular as the original tale, in the realm of today there can be the rise of an individual in society.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fiction vs. Film

           From the forests of Germany to the hills of Hollywood, Hansel and Gretel have indeed made a journey far away from home. As the towering evergreens of the forest and the sky-high palm trees differ so do the original Grimm version of Hansel and Gretel and the MGM adaption to film.

In both the film and the fairy tale, the plot of the tale remains similar. There are the siblings, Hansel and Gretel, and due to the actions of their mother they enter the forest where they proceed to get lost because their trail of crumbs is eaten by the forest animals. They continue to wonder until they find a house made of edible, delicious treats which they enter, unknowing that the occupant is a witch.  The story continues with Hansel being put in a cage and forced to eat, while his sister continues to work all day.  It is not until Gretel is able to lock the witch in the oven that the two siblings are able to escape and be reunited with their father. The main points of the plot remain the same, but it is when the details are examined that the differences can be pointed out.

The character of the mother is one of the differences. In the first 1812 version of the tale, it was Hansel and Gretel’s birthmother that was one of the evil antagonists in the story. Later revised in the 1819 version, the tale is now told that the children’s mother had died and their father re-married a woman that was vain enough to only think of herself and not of the children when famine and hunger struck the household and the country. The stepmother coerces the father to take them into the forest and leave them there as a way for them to survive. The first attempt to abandon the children is thwarted when Hansel fills his pockets with rocks and creates a path that leads them back home.
When the stepmother tries again to get rid of the children, she succeeds because the forest’s inhabitants eat the breadcrumb trail Hansel created. In the MGM version of the film, it is Hansel and Gretel’s original mother who sends them into the forest. In this adaption, the family in not struggling with famine, rather the father is a push over in collecting his dues. As a result, the mother is not portrayed as an “evil” character, but a frustrated mother and wife who is trying her best to make a good meal for her family. After the children’s distraction and the family’s donkey ruin a generous gift from a neighbor she sends the two to pick berries. It is the children’s own fault when they get lost this time because they choose to go to the north forest instead of staying in an area of the forest they are familiar with. Hansel’s failed trail of stale cookie crumbs does not lead them back home but instead, as in both tales, has them wonder until they find the edible house of the witch.

            Known only as the “old woman” in the Grimms’ tales, the MGM film names the witch as Griselda. The characteristics of the witch are the same; she has an exceptional sense of smell but very poor eyesight. The MGM film supplies her with a looking glass that allows her to see the children, while the original Grimm tale gives the witch’s red eyes no aid for seeing better. The role of the witch remains unchanged between the two versions. She puts Hansel in a cage, and makes Gretel work to help make her brother plumper until she can eat him. Though any fairytale is filled with magic, the MGM film exaggerates the witch stereotype. She has a bubbling cauldron, a staff she uses when   
casting a spell, and the producers go as far as having her say the words, “Hocus pocus”. Her demise is another aspect that the film exaggerated. She is not merely tricked by Gretel into getting into the oven; no, Gretel first casts her own spell that switches the witch’s and Hansel place before the wicked witch is dipped in the batter, and then locked in the oven. This is followed by the house regurgitating colorful foam as a result of the witch’s demise and all of the gingerbread figures that were outside of the house are reverted back to the children that had gone missing from the village. A much more complex and entertaining tale, the makers of the film made these changes for a reason.


          Both the fairy tale’s and the movie’s target audience is children. With the main characters as children, there is also the unspoken natural right that a child is to be protected by the adults in their life.  In the Grimm’s fairytale, this is not so much the case. The children are forced to grow up after the abandonment from their parents and their survival from the witch. In the MGM film, there was not the uncaring stepmother portrayal. Rather the mother is distraught and upset with her inability to provide for her family.  The film censored some of the unpleasant details that the Grimms had included in the tale, and exaggerated others so the tale would be entertaining. The song and dance, the donkey in the house incident, and the witch’s home foaming in its destruction give the tale the entertainment that is expected from the movies while lightening the story up for its projected audience. As the tale moved from the ever green forest of Germany to the palm-tree hills of Hollywood, there were changes and adaptions made toHansel and Gretel, but when all is said and done the movie and the book still relate in showing how two siblings are able to mature on their own.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What makes them magical?


            The fantastical tales that we have all read, from a young age to our older days, we have loved for their hidden wisdom but also for the manner in which they are told. Yet if the question were posed to you of what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale, would you know the answer?

            Well let’s start at the beginning. As in most of the fairy tales the first word is once: “Once upon a time”, “Once there was”, or very similar “One day there”. The use of these beginnings is not to suggest that this story took place a long time ago, but rather to suggest that these stories have the tendency to continually occur. The possible perpetual happening of these tales also leads to another relation of fairy tales and time. The stories conquer time because they completely ignore it. This is shown in many tales but best demonstrated in Briar Rose when the beautiful princess falls asleep for a hundred years. The story triumphs over time because she isn’t awakened as a one hundred and fifteen year old maiden, she is still the fifteen year old who fell asleep; the aging process is completely ignored. This is part of the magic of fairy tales, the magic that makes the tales special and wonderful. If you look at the beginning again, in particular at Briar Rose, you will see this magic.

“Then one day, as the queen went out bathing, a frog happened to crawl ashore and say to her, “Your wish shall be fulfilled. Before the year is out, you shall give birth to a daughter.”
            The frog’s predication came true, and the queen gave birth to a girl who was so beautiful that the king was overjoyed and decided to hold a great feast” (Grimm 171).

Now, when the frog approaches the queen and starts talking, the queen is not surprised. She doesn’t start screaming or freaking out that an animal is talking to her. Instead, she listens to his words, and before the year is up she is happy to have had this amphibian talk to her. This is another feature in fairy tales; magic is an accepted aspect. Animals will talk, the wind will whisper, there will be supernatural figures with powers that will oppose and help, and the hero, heroine, or other characters will not question it at all.

The characters and setting are another important aspect of what defines a fairy tales as a fairy tale. There is a contrast in characters, the princess falls in love with the lowly peasant boy, and this allows for there to be a judge of character, rather than being judged by status and lineage. Also, in the stories there is the isolation of the hero or characters. This allows for the characters to become focused on their tasks, and the reader to focus solely on them and their development. As the characters grow and travel on their journeys, there is actually very little description about the setting. The dark forest is described as just that, or in Briar Rose the “great feast” is just those words. As the readers, we use our imagination that give the fairy tales the life that allows us to expand those few words in the detailed picturesque scenes we envision.  Our own imagination is part of what gives the tales we read the magic.

As fantastical and magical as fairy tales are, there is more to them than just the words on the pages we read. There are also the emotions that are evoked in us: hope, amazement, and wonder. We read these stories because we love them, and all of what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale.